Season 1, Episode 5

Girmitiya: A Gripping Saga of Indian Indentured Labour

When the British Empire abolished slavery in 1833, it found that African slaves would much rather not work on its colonial plantations — even for a salary. It had to find a new source of labourers and hired workers from India, Java, China and elsewhere. India indentured labour, especially, was a major source of workers as the nation was a British colony.

In this episode, we join Brij Lal, a world-renowned historian of the Pacific Islands, as he tells the story of Indian indenture. His grandfather Mangre Lal left Bahraich in his 20s and went to Fiji. He settled there, but his children and grandchildren, like most Indo-Fijians, retained a deep-rooted sense of Indian identity.

By the 1980s, Indo-Fijians became so powerful that they were elected into the ruling party in 1987. That stirred up long simmering resentment between the native islanders and Indian descendents. There have been multiple coups and Indo-Fijians have been leaving the island en masse. Indo-Fijian Australian comedian Umit Bali tells us what it was like to live in Suva, the capital, in the ’90s.

Lal, who has been a vocal critic of the government, was exiled from Fiji in 2009. But he refuses to recant his criticism, even if it means he can never again visit the land of his birth.

Time Markers
00:12: Syria wrecks off Fiji
2:16: This episode is about girmitiyas, or Indian indentured labourers
3:17: Introducing Brij Lal and Umit Bali
4:25: Chapter 1 – the search
6:56: Chapter 2 – drought
7:58: Diaspora and the difficult art of dying
11:21: Aja boards a ship for Fiji
13:46: Chapter 3 – Sea-sick
17:36: Chapter 4 – Displacement
22:06: Brij goes to Bahraich
24:52: Chapter 5 – Displacement, redux
27:51: Umit Bali recounts his experiences of Fiji during the coups
33:08: Brij is exiled from Fiji
36:45: Credits

indian indentured labour

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Reading List

Drought (India).

Lal, B. V. The Wreck of the Syria, 1884. in Chalo Jahaji 153–165 (ANU Press, 2012).

V. Lal, B. Chalo Jahaji: On a journey through indenture in Fiji. (ANU Press, 2012).

Sailing the British Empire: Differences in Mutiny Rates on Ships with Indian and Chinese Coolies. Sailing the British Empire: The Voyages of The Clarence, 1858-73

Sudesh Mishra. Mascara Literary Review (2013).

The legacy of Indian migration to European colonies. The Economist (2017).

The Wreckage Of Syria.

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